Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How a Mother's Voice Helps a Baby's Language Acquision and Talk

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Mother and child
Doodle (Dhaka: July 2, 1991) © Jerome D'Costa

On the occasion of the Ekushey February and the International Mother Language Day, we reprint below a news item on how a newborn baby comprehends language and learns to talk by hearing its mother’s voice. The following news is taken from The Epoch Times (Toronto: February 3, 2011).

A Mother’s Voice: Gateway to Language Acquisition

By Michael Dabney

We’ve long known that the sound of a mother’s voice is music to the ears of her newborn, but recent research has zeroed in on exactly what makes a mom’s voice so special to her infant.

In a study which followed 16 full-term newborns shortly after birth, scientists at the University of Montreal [in Canada] found that the areas in the babies’ brains responsible for language development were activated when they heard their mother’s voice.

Interestingly, the same activation did not take place when the infants heard the voices of other females (hospital nurses participating in the study).

This finding suggests that the sound of a mother’s voice plays a key role in helping infants to comprehend language and to learn to talk.

This process, which is enhanced after birth, is believed to have its innate origins in the womb since the mother’s voice is often the predominant sound that the baby hears during pregnancy, the study says.

The results were published recently in the journal Celebral Cortex.

“This is exciting research that proves for the first time that the newborn’s brain responds strongly to the mother’s voice and shows, scientifically speaking, that the mother’s voice is special to babies,” said lead researcher Maryse Lassonde of the University of Montreal’s Department of Psychology and the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center, in a university press release.

In addition, the study is the first to demonstrate that the mother’s voice causes activation in actual brain areas in newborns, and it is also the first such study on babies that young.

Brain signal readings in the study also revealed that when the infants hear the voice of a nurse instead of their mother, the only brain region stimulated was the voice recognition system, found in the right hemisphere.

“Motherese” – the special, soothing voice that mothers use to communicate with their babies – has long been recognized by bahavioural scientists for its positive effects on infant development.

Earlier research by Barbara Kisilevsky, a nursing professor at the Queen’s University in Ontario, revealed that fetuses hear sounds at 30 weeks, indicating that even before birth the brain is being primed to learn language.

Lassonde said it is not yet known if premature babies have similar reactions to the sound of mothers’ voices, but follow-up research by her and her colleagues may examine this question.

To read the research paper, please visit the Cerebral Cortex journal.

Michael Dabney, a former bioscience communicator at the University of California, San Diego, U.S.A., is a freelance writer based in Chula Vista, Calif., specializing in science and education.

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